Centre for Continuing Education

Music Appreciation Course: A History of Classical Music

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

How do the great composers fit into history? How are they influenced by their times, and how do they influence those who come afterwards?

This music appreciation course explores the history of Western music, from medieval times to the 21st century, by linking musical examples to the arts and society of their times. Whether you are a long-term listener or a classical beginner, this course will provide a framework for understanding the music you love.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • list some of the main composers from each period of music history
  • identify some music from each period of music history
  • describe some of the musical characteristics of each period in music history.


Each session will include a timeline of historical events and a brief discussion of the arts and social influences of each period. We will explore the musical style of each period: what the great composers were aiming at, and how they achieved it. We will listen to many examples and finish each week with guided listening to a great piece of music from the period.

From ancient times to the Medieval Period

  • The elements of music
  • Ancient times
  • The Medieval Period
  • Hildegard of Bingen
  • Interlude: origins of Western pitch – modes and scales

The Renaissance (1400-1600)

  • Free polyphony and imitation
  • The Camerata and the birth of opera
  • Palestrina, Monteverdi, Josquin Desprez
  • Interlude: church music

The Baroque Period (1600-1750)

  • Baroque polyphony: counterpoint
  • Continuo
  • Baroque forms: canon, fugue, suite
  • Motivic development
  • Bach, Handel, Vivaldi
  • Interlude: hearing polyphony

The Classical Period (1750-1820)

  • The enlightenment: order and structure
  • The birth of the symphony
  • The birth of the concert tradition
  • The piano
  • Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
  • Interlude: classical forms

The Romantic Period, Part 1 (1820-1850)

  • Romanticism: expression and emotion
  • The piano virtuosos
  • Nationalism
  • Bel Canto Opera
  • Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn
  • Interlude: Lieder in the Romantic Period

The Romantic Period, Part 2 (1850-1880)

  • The birth of operetta
  • Programme music versus absolute music
  • New instruments, new sounds
  • Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Verdi
  • Interlude: programme music

The Impressionist Period (1880-1920)

  • Impressionism: pushing the boundaries
  • Impressionism in music
  • Between tonality and atonality
  • Moments rather than movement
  • Puccini, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel
  • Interlude: Impressionist piano music

The Twentieth Century (1920 and onwards)

  • An interest in folk music
  • Atonality
  • Serialism
  • Indeterminacy
  • Minimalism
  • Extended tonality
  • Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg
  • Interlude: music notation – control and creativity

Intended audience

Designed for fans of classical music, beginners and experienced listeners alike.


No prior musical knowledge is required.

Delivery style

This course will be richly illustrated with musical examples, illustrations and video clips. Susan Deas will use the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions will be encouraged and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


Handouts are provided in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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